Skills are aren’t the only way to mountain bike stronger! While you need to master the non-intuitive skills of mountain biking to ride your best you also need your body to function at it’s best. Our hips generated most of our power on a bike! If they aren’t tended to properly they create most of physical problems as a rider. James Wilson linked to this rather insightful article on fixing movement dysfunction in your hips. Read the article to learn how to mountain bike stronger, better and continue mountain biking throughout your life. I encourage you to add the exercises to your workout/recovery/mobility routine. http://breakingmuscle.com/mobility-recovery/its-all-in-the-hip-5-steps-to-fixing-movement-dysfunction
There has been an amazing amount written about MTB skills and our students are always asking me to write a book on mtb skills. My book is in the works but it is taking a lot of time because I want the book to actually help you become better, not fill your head with knowledge. Knowledge is worthless if you can’t put that knowledge into action on your bike!
Why is so hard to actually do a skill you understand? You read a well-written article on the skill, you know Exactly how to do the skill, yet you still struggle, why? Put simply that is because the wrong part of your brain understands the skill. The part of your brain that read that MTB skills article has absolutely zero input in doing a physical skill, a completely different part of your brain handles physical skills. What you need to do is train the correct part of your brain to do the skill, which is hard/impossible to do by just reading or listening.
The book “Choke” covers this well and I will explain what 28 years of coaching people just like you and what Choke has taught me. I have always noticed a disconnect between “knowing” something and being able to “do” what you know (both in me and in our students). Choke explained the reasons for this better than anything else I have read on the subject and they actually use riding a bike as an example!
According to “Choke” as an expert gets better and better at doing a skill they start to forget stuff. Their example: “Think about riding a bike. How exactly do you do this? Well, yes, first you have to get on a bike and pedal. But there is a lot more to it than that. You have to balance, hold on to the handlebars, look at what is in front of you. If you miss any of these steps, falling is a real possibility. This usually doesn’t happen when proficient bike riders are actually riding, but if you were to ask a bike rider to explain the “how-tos” of this complex skill, he would forget details. This is because the proficient bike rider is trying to remember information about bike riding that is kept as a procedural memory, as we psychologists term it.”
“Procedural memory is implicit or unconscious. You can think of procedural memory as your cognitive toolbox that contains a recipe that, if followed, will produce a successful bike ride, golf putt, baseball swing… Interestingly, these recipes operate largely outside of your conscious awareness. … because when you are good at performing a skill, you do it too quickly to monitor it consciously. …”
“Procedural memory is often distinguished from another form of memory: our explicit memory that supports our ability to reason on the spot or to recall the exact details of a conversation we had with our spouse the week before. … Simply put, explicit and procedural memories or largely housed in different parts of the brain …” More on those different parts of the brain in this article: You Aren’t Doing What You Know You are Supposed to Do!
So, how do we train our “procedural memory? Drills, with a focus on quality, not quantity! Remember, perfect practice makes perfect! Not just any drills, of course, drills designed to get you doing the correct recipe. My free mini-course has quite a few of these and my three-day skills progression camps are designed around specific drills to get you actually doing what we teach you.
What gets in our way when learning the correct way to do something? Our experience! If we are experienced but doing things incorrectly we have solid (but incorrect) procedural memories. In this case being a complete beginner is better than an experienced rider when learning as the complete beginner has no procedural memory. The experienced rider has to weaken their incorrect procedural memory while strengthening the new, correct procedural memory.
So, do the drills from our mini-course and/or take a skills progression camp but most importantly do your drills!
Lastly, this is why “skilled” athletes rarely make good coaches, they can’t access their procedural memory to articulate what they are doing. Think of the great athletes who have made lousy coaches, Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky, Magic Johnson, Mike Singletary, Ted Williams, Mike Ditka, Isiah Thomas, etc. as a matter of fact google “why “skilled” athletes rarely make good coaches” and there are a lot of articles on the topic!
Most mountain bikers know that they get stronger through cycles of physical stress and recovery. A 100 mile ride wears you down, good nutrition and good sleep after that ride helps you recover and grow stronger. What I never realized (until I read “The New Toughness Training For Sports” years ago) is that mental and emotional stresses can be just as debilitating as physical stress. This means a lot of your life away from the bike and/or other forms of exercise can wear you out too. To mountain bike at your best you need to manage and make sure you recover from all stresses.
Mental stress is just as it sounds, anything that mentally taxes you. This can be a challenging problem at work or home, financial worry, learning, etc., basically anything that makes you concentrate intensely or think hard. Guess what is super mentally stressful, mountain biking! The harder the trail is skill wise (to you) the more intensely you have to concentrate and this can be really taxing. At places with high consequences for failure (like Bootleg Canyon) I find I can ride a max of three days in a row before I am worn out and my riding starts to suffer. After three days there I need some mental recovery before I can ride at my best again. I do this by taking a day off or riding easier trails which take less focus.
How do you recover from mental stress? Relax! Shut your brain off! The absolute best way is to meditate (which will help in many other ways both on the bike and in life) but meditating is hard wish turns many people off. If you are interested in meditating and it positive effects start doing it! There are probably many teachers in your area and tons of information on the ole inter webs. If meditating isn’t your cup of tea then simply try shutting your brain down, deep breathing exercises, taking a nap, watching a simple movie (not an intense French film with subtitles), have a beer or glass of wine or two (much more than two and you may be harming yourself in other ways), yin yoga, anything that slows you down and shuts your brain off.
In our busy, over stimulated lives (smart phones, traffic, long work hours, etc) it is easy to become overloaded mentally and all aspects of your life will suffer. The “work hard, play harder” philosophy almost guarantees mental stress. SCHEDULE time to alleviate your mental stress and you will see a big difference in your performance on trail (and life in general) riding.
MTB Cornering, Braking and Setting Up to Corner
Interesting braking and mtb cornering question asked by one of our students:
“Just a quick follow up question. I have been having a problem getting out of position before cornering, primarily caused by hard braking (especially if there are rough terrain before the corner or if I come in too hot). As I brake, my body gets behind the center and lower as well, and by the time I start entering the corner, I am out of the “attack” position. My front wheel feels light, and it becomes difficult to get in the correct cornering body position.
If you have suggestions as to how to properly transition from braking into cornering (especially under hard braking), I would appreciate it.”
Interesting question, I have been working on the same issue, especially last weekend at Bootleg Canyon. The problem stems from getting back while we brake, getting low is good but we need to stay more centered so when we release the brakes and the bike accelerates we are centered and ready to attack the corner. I was taught the old school, “get way back while you brake” which does help the rear brake a bit but actually hurts the effectiveness of the much more powerful front brake. Getting back also puts me out of balance and makes it hard to corner correctly (straightening my arms which puts me in a non-neutral position, shifting my weight back and taking weight off the front tire). My main focus at the last two races has been to stay centered as I brake, use A LOT of front brake and then let off and attack the corner. Believe me, the entrances to these corners are really rough and brake bumped, but you can still stay centered. When working with Greg Minnaar he really stresses this has it is the only way to stay in control as you brake. It sounds scary but once you do it you realize two things: 1. you can brake in a much shorter distance with more control (more weight on the front wheel means no front wheel slide which means you can brake harder if needed) 2. you are in a much better position to corner when you let off the brakes. This is another reason to practice the braking drills from the camp you took with us.
In our next cornering article we will talk about line choice for cornering but something you can put into practice today is to stop talking the Lemming line. Lemmings are those little creatures that blindly follow each other off ice cliffs to their death and mountain bikers have a habit of doing the same thing (not to their death but definitely to their determent). When riding don’t always follow the “dominate line” (the most worn in/used path), it is often not the best choice for you. When entering a corner often the Lemming line is full of brake bumps and right in the middle of the trail, if you are doing a good job of looking ahead as you enter the corner you might notice that just to the outside of that dominate, brake bumped line there is a nice smooth line! That smooth line is better for braking, better for your suspension, won’t beat you up as much and it might just give you a better entrance point for the corner! Give that a try and let us know how it works for you.
More on cornering: Mountain Bike Cornering, Part 1
As always it comes down to doing drills to master skills, then practicing with purpose and a focus on quality!
Create a railed corner (or two)!
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